Empirical studies of tolerance have drawn three conclusions about tolerance, speech, and democracy: (1) that tolerance is one of the most important attributes of democracy; (2) that all groups should be tolerated, but not all activities; and (3) that elites are more willing than non-elites to tolerate extremist speech. In 1977, Skokie, Illinois revealed the conflict these conclusions elide when the citizens of Skokie reversed a decision by Skokie’s elected officials and banned a group of Nazis from demonstrating. In the words of one study, this created “an antidemocratic consensus of unambiguous scope and content.” In this article, I argue that Skokie demonstrates a willingness by a people to preserve their way of life by limiting the liberty of a group dedicated to tyranny, and to regain some of their autonomy by deliberating about how to live as a free people. Another word for this is democracy, and my understanding of this term contrasts sharply with empiricists’ understanding of it. Understanding speech by way of democracy and tolerance is rarely analyzed, but it provides for greater insight into the meaning of speech because it takes seriously the beliefs of those most affected by extremist speech.
- Deliberative democracy